WILKES-BARRE — As the holidays near, the Wolf Administration this week shared resources for people struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, and other stressors.
The holidays can be both a time of joy and a period of stress for people, depending on their circumstances. Mental well-being is an important part of everyone’s overall good health and remains a priority for the administration amid the ongoing pandemic.
People who experience feelings of anxiety or depression may experience more distress during the holiday season than during non-holiday times. Given the challenges we are all currently facing, all Pennsylvanians should take extra care to be mindful of their mental health and tend to their overall health and wellness during this time.
Check in with yourself, be honest about how you are feeling to yourself and your support network, and if you need someone to talk to or a little extra support, help is available.
“This year has challenged all of us in ways that we could not have anticipated, and whether you normally deal with feelings of depression or anxiety or you are experiencing these for the first time, your feelings are valid,” said Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller. “The holiday season and our family traditions will look different this year because it’s what we must do to keep each other safe, but there can be a grief that comes from that. No matter what you are feeling this year, please know that you do not have to endure it alone. Talk to your loved ones, talk to your support network, and don’t be afraid to make a call to resources that exist to help.”
DHS’ mental health support & referral helpline, Persevere PA, is available 24/7 and is a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions. The helpline caseworkers can refer callers to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs. Pennsylvanians can contact Persevere PA at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.
Substance use disorder
The holidays may also be difficult for individuals with a substance use disorder or people in recovery, especially if they become stressed by changes to their schedule or daily routine, are not able to see their support network in-person, have strained or non-existent relationships with family members, or are faced with potential triggers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most dangerous time of the year for substance use and alcohol-related deaths are around the holiday months.
“We understand how difficult it is not being together with our loved ones during the holidays. However, it is essential that we stop all gatherings, even small gatherings, to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Ray Barishansky, deputy secretary for health preparedness and community protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “We must not lose sight, however, of the opioid epidemic that still rages on in our communities.”
The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs also maintains a toll-free helpline that connects callers looking for treatment options for themselves or a loved one to resources in their community. You can reach the Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is available 24/7 – including on Thanksgiving Day. An anonymous chat service offering the same information to individuals who may not be comfortable speaking on the phone is also available at www.ddap.pa.gov.
Because the risk of COVID-19 is more acute among older Pennsylvanians, we must be diligent about protecting our older loved ones from potential exposure to the virus. This distance undoubtedly creates difficulties, but regular communication can help families stay connected while they are not able to be together in person.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s Council on Aging (PCoA) recently released an interactive guide with information and resources to help older adults cultivate a healthy mind, body and spirit amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide, titled “SOLO: Strengthening Older Lives Online,” was produced by PCoA’s Risk Reduction Committee, which is made up of older adults and was formed in response to the council’s State of Older Adults Report released in May 2020. The committee is an extension of the Social Isolation Task Force formed in 2019 to help mitigate social isolation among seniors.
The SOLO guide is designed to go beyond some of the physical safety reminders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using bold, color graphics, the guide incorporates ways for aging adults to combat some of the pervasive stressors exacerbated by the pandemic while helping them live their best lives.
The Wolf Administration also wants grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins who are finding themselves caring for children who lost parents or whose parents are not able to be their primary caregiver to know that help is available via the KinConnector helpline.
The helpline is staffed by Kinship Navigators — compassionate, knowledgeable social service professionals prepared to help families locate, understand, and access resources that may be able to help them during the holiday season.
It can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111) or online at www.kinconnector.org.
Holiday Season great time
to support Pa.’s veterans
In the spirit of the holiday season, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) reminds Pennsylvanians that this is a great time to give to programs that support the commonwealth’s nearly 800,000 veterans, active military and their families.
“As we approach the holiday season people often ask how they can honor current and former service members as a way to thank them for their incredible service to our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the DMVA. “Many Pennsylvania veterans and current military need our help this year more than ever because of the challenges brought about by COVID-19. We are proud to administer four tax deductible programs that honor our veterans and provide them with aid, but these programs rely on generous donations from the public.”
The four tax-deductible programs administered by the DMVA are:
Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP): The MFRAP provides financial assistance, in the form of grants, to eligible Pennsylvania service members and their eligible family members who have an immediate financial need based on circumstances beyond their control.
Veterans’ Trust Fund (VTF): The VTF issues grants to statewide charitable organizations that assist veterans, veterans service organizations and county directors of veterans affairs to help veterans in need of shelter and necessities of living. The VTF also issues temporary assistance grants to individual veterans that have qualifying financial needs.
Residents’ Welfare Funds: Residents’ Welfare Funds at each of the DMVA’s six veterans homes help to keep the residents active and healthy by providing activities and entertainment. Donations are made online or through private donations by mail. The six Pennsylvania veterans homes and their locations are: Delaware Valley Veterans’ Home (Philadelphia), Gino J. Merli Veterans’ Center (Scranton), Hollidaysburg Veterans’ Home (Hollidaysburg), Pennsylvania Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home (Erie), Southeastern Veterans’ Center (Spring City), and Southwestern Veterans’ Center (Pittsburgh).
Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund: Located at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Lebanon County, and maintained by the DMVA, the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial is the first in the commonwealth to honor veterans of all eras from the Revolutionary War forward and it is the largest veterans memorial located in any of the national cemeteries.
To make a donation online or by mail for any of these tax-deductible programs, or to learn more about each one, go to www.donate.dmva.pa.gov.
Tips offered to avoid
holiday financial scams
As the holiday shopping season begins, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) and Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) are sharing tips to help Pennsylvanians spot scams and protect their money and personal information.
“An increasing number of consumers are expected to shop online this holiday season because of the pandemic,” said Secretary of Banking and Securities Richard Vague. “Scam artists will look to take advantage of this fact and use every tactic available to try and obtain your sensitive financial information for nefarious purposes.”
The PSP works closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to investigate fraud and scams. Scam and fraud activity also tend to increase during times of tragedy or emergency, making it dually important for consumers to be vigilant this year.